3,800km in 260 days: Champion for Change to walk from Kanyakumari to Srinagar to empower women
The aim is to draw attention to the cause of women’s empowerment and ensure their safetyUpdated: Sep 20, 2017 16:40 IST
From a marketing professional in Hong Kong to a 2016-2017 Empower Women Alumni Champion for Change— a a United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women initiative— New Delhi resident Srishti Bakshi has come a long way. But, she has still further to go. 3,800 km, to be precise.
On September 15, Bakshi will set out on a 260-day ‘modern Dandi March’ from Kanyakumari in Tamil Nadu to Srinagar in Kashmir. Her mission? To draw attention to the cause of women’s empowerment and ensure their safety. Along the way, her 10-member team will conduct workshops on financial and digital literacy for women.
A CLEAN SLATE
Bakshi decided to put her plan into action in August last year.
“Several experiences made me realise the need for change. When I took business trips abroad, there were three separate occasions on which my clients asked me why Indians were rapists. This angered me as it was such a generalised statement. I would defend my country, only to go home and receive emails from these men, with links to articles about gang rapes in India. One day, while riding the bus home, I read about the Highway 91 case, in which a woman and her daughter were raped in front of her husband and brother. When I tried to discuss it with others, they had one of two reactions — they were disturbed and didn’t want to hear about it, or they said “yeh to hota rehta hai” (this keeps happening),” she said.
Bakshi said her husband encouraged her to channel her anger into a positive outlet. The couple hung a whiteboard in their house and started jotting down ideas. Suggestions such as joining a non-profit organisation and doing volunteer work were soon discarded as they were deemed “insufficient”.
“One day I came home, wiped the board clean and wrote ‘I want to walk from Kanyakumari to Srinagar and teach women along the way’,” she said.
Bakshi enrolled at an athletic facility in Hong Kong in October. “My athletic ability was limited to running at the school and college level. I knew I had to get fit,” she said. She focussed on crossfit and weightlifting.
Bakshi embarked on a practice walk from Mumbai to Pune in July, walking 125km in three-and-a-half days.
A LOGISTICAL NIGHTMARE
Bakshi and her team will begin their walk at 11.30 am on September 15, following a ceremony, which Union minister Smriti Irani and MP Rajeev Chandrasekhar have promised to attend.
They will pass through Bangalore, Hyderabad, Nagpur — the half-way mark — Bhopal, Agra, Delhi — where she plans to meet the Prime Minister — Ludhiana and Mohali. Bakshi plans to start at 5 am and cover at least 25 km daily.
“In terms of planning, this march has been a logistical nightmare,” she said. While certain district collectors have offered the team accommodation in guesthouses, they will stay in budget hotels elsewhere.
The journey is expected to cost Rs1 crore, of which Bakshi has raised Rs50 lakh through crowdfunding. “I expect that once we’re on the road, donations will pick up owing to word-of-mouth publicity,” she said.
Help has poured in from all quarters. In lieu of a monetary donation, a friend lent Bakshi his truck for a year. The vehicle, which will be driven by a team member, will be used to store the group’s luggage and has space for a small kitchen. Team members said they plan to cook as this will help reduce their reliance on outside food, thus lowering expenses.
An Uber driver who heard Bakshi discussing the walk over the phone donated Rs500.
A 20-member team, most of whom are working pro-bono, are handling the back-end operations. “Four members are in San Francisco, two in Honk Kong and the rest in Delhi and Bangalore. Some of them have jobs, but still find the time to help me out,” she said.
Bakshi has tied up with United Nations Young Changemaker and Dehradun resident Deepak Ramola to conduct workshops for women. “My organisation, Project Fuel, collects life lessons from women and presents them interactive ways. We have short modules on women empowerment, leadership, knowing your rights, gender sensitisation, hygiene and how to use the internet,” said Ramola.
One such video depicts a woman, identified only as Lakshmi, who learnt to economically empower herself after her husband’s death. Her motto “Apni ladai khud ladni padegi” (you will have to fight your own battles) seems to resonate with women, he said.
Bakshi has 65 workshops planned, but said the number could go up to 110. She estimates that she will meet at least 60,000 women.
She doesn’t believe in short-term measures. “We will conduct pre and post impact assessment surveys of 10 women in each village as these are the easiest and most effective way to determine if we have helped them. However, a professor from the Indian School of Business in Mohali, my alma mater, will follow up with these women after three months to see if their lives have changed for the better,” she said.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
Of 4,000 applicants to the UN Women’s Empower Women programme last year, 170 were selected as the Champion for Change 2016-2017 after a month-long online rally.
As one of them, Bakshi presented her project at the Empower Women Initiative event at UN Women annual conference CSW61 in New York in March.
“The Empower Women team told me that my journey could become a movement, for which I needed a digital platform. I have estimated that I will walk 60 lakh steps on my journey and so designed a mobile application called Crossbow to accumulate more and reach my target of 1 billion steps,” she said.
Here’s how it works: If you’re walking to work or taking a stroll, this application will track the number of steps you have taken. As many as 20 organisations working with Bakshi will convert your steps into positive actions and will send you messages such as, “Thank you for your steps, they helped one girl get a notebook today.” The greater the number of steps, the more widespread the impact.